The Red Sox’ Coming Out Party

The really fun thing about the World Series for me was watching the Red Sox’ young players have their own “coming out party”. While the veterans on the club (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and World Series MVP Mike Lowell) all had fine series, the younger players were equally impressive:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury (CF, rookie, age 23) went from playing in AA to hitting 438/500/688 in the World Series, with 4 doubles and a stolen base. It would be a stretch to say that he won Game 3 all by himself, but he was certainly the highlight of the game.
  • Dustin Pedroia (2B, rookie, age 23) hit 278/350/500 with a double and a home run. The potential 2007 Rookie of the Year was even better in the ALCS.
  • Kevin Youkilis (1B, age 28) actually was a rookie back in 2004, but didn’t play in the 2004 World Series. He only batted 222/417/444 in the World Series and missed out on most of the games in Colorado because of the lack of a DH, but he was a total monster in the ALCS, batting 500/576/929 (!) with 3 (!!!) home runs. He also went the whole 2007 regular season without committing an error (and then committed 3 in the playoffs). He’ll probably never be a star, but he’s put to rest speculation that the “Greek God of Walks” wouldn’t be very valuable because of a lack of power. He might have a better career than John Kruk did, even if he is already 28.
  • Jon Lester (SP, age 23) came all the way back from chemotherapy for cancer to pitch 5.2 shutout innings and become the winning pitcher in the series clincher. He’ll likely be the Red Sox’ 4th or 5th starter next year, assuming either or both of Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield head elsewhere.
  • Jonathan Papelbon (RP, age 26) didn’t allow a run in the Series and saved 3 games.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP, rookie, age 26) isn’t a true rookie, as he was a big free agent pickup from Japan last off-season, but he was nearly the Sox’ “forgotten star” as he faded down the stretch, possibly because he threw more innings in 2007 than he ever had in Japan and just got tired. But he picked up his game in the ALCS and World Series, throwing two good games and getting a key base hit in Game 3 of the World Series. Japanese players often seem to do better in their second year in the Majors, so I fully expect Matsuzaka will be better next year than he was this year. Other than fatigue, I think there’s nothing to worry about here.

I love seeing young players do well, and it’s additionally encouraging that the Sox have a solid core of young players to build around for the next 2-3 years (if not longer). This doesn’t even count other “under-30-somethings” on the roster, like Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Manny Delcarmen.

The Red Sox’ future is already here, and it just won a World Series.

Champions Again!

Amazing – the Red Sox have won the World Series again!

It seems like only yesterday that they won for the first time in my lifetime. They went into a rebuilding phase after that, so I didn’t imagine they’d win it all again so soon, yet here they are on top of the heap once more!

Wow.

Heading into the playoffs I thought either the Red Sox or Indians would go to the World Series, and probably steamroller the NL champion, and I was right as the Sox swept the Rockies, winning two blowouts and two one-run games. Mike Lowell won the MVP award, although there was plenty of credit to go around: Nearly every Sox hitter had a great Series, and some were simply insanely great.

Truth to tell, it was a pretty boring postseason: Only 5 of 7 series were sweeps, and only 1 went the distance, as the Sox overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Indians in the ALCS in what was a pretty good series, but the Indians’ pitching collapsed in the last three games.

What really made the Sox’ team click this month? Well, I think the Sox managed to rest their tired and injured players in September and fielded a healthy team which was hitting on all cylinders in the playoffs: David Ortiz’ bad knee didn’t hinder him, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima got some rest and were good enough to help (Okajima faded in the Series, though), and even Jon Lester pitched a great game tonight in the clincher. With a strong pitching staff and an overpowering offense, only Cleveland really had a team which could stand up to them.

So I guess the Sox are now the new Evil Empire, having won more championships in this century than any other team (a mark they also held in the 20th century until 1937 when the Yankees passed them). And despite Curt Schilling and Mike Lowell heading to free agency, they still seem well-positioned to contend for several more years, with plenty of young talent on the roster. And they have the financial resources to take big risks on big free agents without compromising the core of the team – a luxury few other teams can afford.

So it’s a nifty end to a nifty season. It feels a little anticlimactic because the Sox have been a leading contender since April, and only the Yankees’ late-season run at the division title and the ALCS really added much drama. Still, it’s nice to come out and win as favorites rather than as long-suffering underdogs. It made this a championship to enjoy rather than claw our eyes out in anticipation (as 2004 was at times).

Looking forward to next year!

It’s Rox vs. Sox!

Tonight the Red Sox completed their improbable comeback to win the ALCS, beating the Cleveland Indians 4 games to 3, after being down 3-1 a few days ago. I didn’t think they could do it, so color me amazed.

Now they’ll face the equally-improbable Colorado Rockies, who are going to their first World Series in team history, and who made it through an amazing winning streak to close the season before dumping the Phillies and Diamondbacks in two sweeps.

Go Sox!

(P.S.: If the Sox win the Series, they’ll have the most championships of any team in this century. That’s a distinction they held early in the last century, too, winning 5 of the first 15 World Series. The Yankees passed them when they won their sixth World Series in 1937.)

Stress Puppy

Insanely busy lately.

I have a little list of things to do for my house. One of these – refinancing my mortgage – should be pretty easy and is already underway. Other things are going to take more effort and thought: Putting in new windows, replacing the kitchen dispose-all, figuring out what’s up with one of the lights in the master bathroom… that sort of thing.

Meanwhile work is hopping lately. Lots of meetings and design and planning for a bunch of different projects, and meanwhile I’m ripping code apart and putting it back together. It’s a pretty lively time, but it’s keeping me plenty busy.

I was having trouble sleeping earlier this week, which I almost never do. I’m a heavy sleeper, and usually find it very easy to fall asleep, but the latter point was failing me Sunday and Monday night. I got over it on Tuesday, but it left me pretty tired for the rest of the week. I still managed to get up early for my morning bike ride on Tuesday and Thursday, though.

And to top it off, Debbi had a rough day today, and I was feeling stressed on her behalf. She always tells me not to be stressed like this, because it doesn’t do any good. But I do worry about things. If you know me, you probably think of me as a pretty laid-back person, but sometimes I get really wound up when I’m juggling too many tasks, or things I feel not-well-suited to deal with.

It’s not all work and stress, though: The new Magic expansion, Lorwyn, is nearly out, and the card list has been posted. Also, TCGPlayer has Lorwyn set up in their practice booster draft engine.

Better yet, the baseball playoffs have started. My Red Sox dominated their first game (the first round is all best-of-five series), and the Indians beat the Yankees. I’ll root for one of these two to win the World Series – the Sox are my team, and the Tribe are my grandfather’s team. I’m more indifferent to the National League, where the Rockies won the first 2 games against the Phillies (making one of my cow-orkers happy, and another not so much), and the Diamondbacks won the first 2 against the Cubs (sorry RJ). I think all of the American League teams are better than any of the National League teams (well, maybe not the Angels), and generally more interesting teams to boot. I kind of like the Diamondbacks, though, since they’ve reinvented themselves the last few years as a team of exciting young players, and I think they’re doing a lot of things right.

Anyway.

Admittedly my seasonal affective disorder might have something to do with my feelings of stress. I’ll get through it.

Especially if the Red Sox keep winning. Or, failing that, the Yankees keep losing.

At the Halfway Point

Time to check in with how everyone’s doing in the Major Leagues, much as I did after the first week of the season. Take a look at the All-Star Break standings, and read on:

The Good:

  • Can anyone catch the Red Sox? With a 10-game cushion, it seems unlikely, although it’s never wise to entirely count out the Yankees. The Sox have had their troubles – J.D. Drew has been awful, Curt Schilling is hurt – but they’re still in a comfortable place.
  • The Tigers, Indians, Angels and Mariners are within 2.5 games of each other, and only 3 of them can go to the playoffs. I expect the Mariners will get exposed as the season goes on, but the other three are genuinely good teams.
  • The class of the National League is, uhh… no one. The NL looks like a strong, balanced league this year. The Padres have the best record (also by a nose), but there are eight teams within 6 games of them, including 3 in their own division – that’s more than half the league within easy striking distance, and only four of them can make the playoffs. I figure the Brewers will still win the Central, and the other three teams will come from the Mets, Braves, Padres and Dodgers – I think I’d pick the Braves to be the odd-team-out at this point.

The Bad:

As I said before, I think it’s a lot harder to overcome a bad start than to lose a good one, and halfway through the season that means the bad teams are just about out of it now:

  • The Nationals are bad. We knew that. Let’s move on.
  • The Astros are on their way down, after a decade of success and a World Series appearance. It may be a few years before they return to contention, but their fans have to be pretty happy with what they’ve gotten in the recent past – except for the lack of a title.
  • I wonder if the Reds know what they’re doing? They threw away Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns last year and now have a middling offense and bad pitching.
  • And then there are the Giants, which consist of 42-year-old Barry Bonds and his pursuit of the career home run record, and… uh… Barry Zito’s large contract, and… Matt Morris is having a pretty good year, and… geez… But seriously, like the Astros, the Giants are paying the price for years of excellence and a World Series appearance (which they, too, didn’t win), but the Giants’ flameout is going to be more dramatic and probably more prolonged. The Rockies don’t suck this year, so the Giants are going to finish last in their division, and despite the team signing GM Brian Sabean to a 2-year extension, it wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t survive the off-season.

The Rest:

  • The Phillies overcame their 1-5 start and are now at .500. They’re not a good team, though: Their offense is good and their pitching is bad, and they tossed Brett Myers into the bullpen for no good reason and then he got hurt. The Phils have been directionless for years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
  • Up-and-coming teams? They’re already here: I think the Brewers are probably going to win their divison, the Diamondbacks are probably a year or two away, and the Indians need to figure out the rest of their rotation to have staying power. But all three are contending right now, and all of them could continue to do so into the fall.

I think the Wild Card sucks a lot of drama out of the season (even if it was partly responsible for the Red Sox winning it all in 2004), but there are enough good teams this year that there could still be some great races into September. Really, no one looks like a clear favorite to go to the World Series – even the Red Sox look great mainly by comparison with the rest of their division.

Alex Rodriguez

One of my favorite columns in the San Jose Mercury News is Bud Geracie’s weekly sports roundup, “In The Wake of the Week”. He averages more good zingers per column than any other columnist I read.

This week he sums up Alex Rodriguez’ overpowering start to the 2007 season in four words:

“Alex Rodriguez: Mr. April.”

Ouch.

(ARod hit two home runs last night, but the Red Sox came back to win with 5 runs in the 8th, so, y’know, nyah-nyah!)

Offseason Roundup: Red Sox

A look at the Boston Red Sox’ off-season moves.

My team, the Boston Red Sox, are entering the third season of what I like to think of as their rebuilding phase. After they won the 2004 World Series, they lost three key players (Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Johnny Damon) to free agency, and only retained Jason Varitek by handing him a large 4-year contract.

It’s been a rough couple of years: Two of their big free agent investments – SS Edgar Renteria and SP Matt Clement – have not really panned out. Clement is mired in a cycle of injury and ineffectiveness that leaves me wondering if he’ll ever be useful again. Renteria was shipped out after one season in a pair of trades that resulted in Coco Crisp patrolling center field (which isn’t such a bad thing). Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon have continued to age, David Ortiz has continued to be one of the best hitters in baseball, and the Sox brought in Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell from Florida, and while Lowell had a bounceback season, Beckett was very uneven.

The Sox have developed some in-house talent, such as Dustin Pedroia, Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester, and there’s more in the pipeline. Nonetheless, they did have some work to do this year, and here’s the scorecard so far:

Leaving:

  • Trot Nixon, OF (free agent)
  • Mark Loretta, 2B (free agent)
  • Alex Gonzalez, SS (free agent, to the Reds)
  • Keith Foulke, RP (free agent)
  • Gabe Kapler, OF (retired)

Arriving:

  • Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP (Japanese free agent, 6 years, $52M + $52M posting fee)
  • J.D. Drew, OF (free agent, 5 years, $70M, from the Dodgers)
  • Julio Lugo, SS (free agent, 3 years, $36M, from the Dodgers)
  • Runelvys Hernandez, SP (free agent, minor league contract, from the Royals)
  • Brendan Donnelly, RP (acquired in trade from the Angels)
  • J.C. Romero, RP (free agent, 1 year, $1.6M, from the Angels)
  • Hideki Okajima, RP (Japanese free agent, 2 years, $2.5M)

Returning:

  • Tim Wakefield, SP (option picked up)
  • Alex Cora, SS (free agent, 2 years, $4M)
  • Doug Mirabelli, C (free agent, 1 year, $0.75M)

(Full free agent data can be found here, and recent Sox transactions here.)

I find it very hard to evaluate Red Sox transactions: With the second-largest payroll in baseball, they’re not quite playing the same budget-oriented game as most other teams. Is that Drew contract overpaying for an injury-prone outfielder, or is it a straightforward investment within the Sox’ budget? These last few years, I’ve found it easier on my brain to ignore the dollar signs and just evaluate the talent.

Because budget is only one constraint that baseball teams have to live within: The others are roster constraints (you can only have so many players on your team before you have to start cutting some to make room for others), and positional constraints (“You have to have a catcher because if you don’t you’re likely to have a lot of passed balls”, but of course most catchers can’t hit). So we can always consider whether the Sox have acquired good players, and look like they’re going to play their best players.

Anyway, with the Red Sox’ payroll and the savvy of their front office, they’re practically guaranteed make plenty of off-season headlines. That makes the winter almost as exciting for Sox fans as finishing below second place for the first time since 1997.

The Sox blew away all the competition in the $52M posting fee for the exclusive rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka (thus ensuring that the posting system will probably be overhauled if not scrapped next year), and then signed him to what I think is a surprisingly reasonable deal. One projection rates Matsuzaka as a very good starting pitcher in the Majors; if true, then he could be the true ace the Sox will need once Curt Schilling retires. If Beckett can work out his problems, then the Sox could have a nice rotation for the next few years.

Although, in 2007 the back end of the rotation is a bit of a concern, with Clement’s status unclear, Jon Lester recovering from cancer, and Wakefield at that age where he might collapse any year (he turned 40 in August, after all). Ace closer Jon Papelbon is slated to move into the rotation, but one wonders whether he might be more valuable in the bullpen, especially if he can’t make the transition smoothly. Still, the Sox are also bringing in several new bullpen arms, so they have options.

On the offensive side, the Sox are working through a bumpy negotiation process over J.D. Drew, who is a very good hitter with a length history of injury problems, and who’s had trouble passing his physical to finalize the deal. Whether Drew continues to be an offensive force through age 35 is a good question; it’s hard to say whether I’d be sad whether he finally gets signed or not. He’d probably be an upgrade over Trot Nixon in right field overall, though, and he supposedly can play center, too.

The Sox also brought in Julio Lugo, who is a pretty good shortstop. That’s a lot of money for a guy who looks to me like he might start a sharp decline at any time. But I think the Sox have soured on Pedroia at shortstop, which leaves them with few options for starter (and Alex Cora shouldn’t be one of them), so it might be their best option. Besides, if Lugo doesn’t completely go into the tank, then the trade market for fair-to-middling shortstops should be as strong as it has been in the last few years and the Sox could flip him for something useful.

It sounds like Pedroia might slot as the starter at second base, while some sort of Lowell/Ortiz/Kevin Youkilis tandem (plus whatever other spare hitters they can scrounge up) ought to be able to cover 3B, 1B and DH perfectly well.

In their third place finish in 2006, the Sox were outscored on the season, and finished 86-76. The Yankees might regress somewhat next year, but the Sox still need to improve to win their division. Matsuzaka, Drew and Lugo will help (assuming everyone’s healthy and performs up to their expected levels), so they’ll probably be a better team overall. But I think the Yankees will need to regress substantially for the Sox to make it a horse race. The Blue Jays are a pretty good team, too, but I suspect they’re going to regress a bit in 2007 as well.

All of which adds up to more of what we’ve seen lately: A Sox team which hasn’t quite gelled, but which feels like it’s on the cusp of being an AL powerhouse again. This is a team which could surprise in 2007, but after the World championship, I’d figured a 3-year rebuilding period was in order, so look for the Sox to work through a few more bumps and emerge in 2008.

Which is not to say that I’d be sad if they emerge a year earlier than I expect!